Nina Simone (RCA)
Perhaps because she's not quite so easily classifiable as an Ella Fitzgerald, a Billie Holliday or an Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone remains an enigmatic figure. But this uncompromising artist is
still a legend.
Like her Egyptiantine features, Simone is an artist of great dignity, grace and force. Nina Simone enjoyed a brief 'revival' last year, with the re-release of what was in fact her very first record, from 1959, "My Baby Just Cares For Me." But that was merely a fleeting image from a monumental career which has been full of peaks and troughs.
Despite maintaining a prolific output during the late '60s and early '70s, in recent times this
great lady - who was born Eunice Waymon 57 years ago in North Carolina - has slowed down some.
Her new album Nina's Back is only her second since 1978 - and even then it would seem to have been recorded in the mid '80s.
Nina Simone is an artist who's broken the mould of black, female performers. Trained as a pianist at the renowned Juilliard School of Music in New York, she's neither broadly-speaking a blues
artist, as Billie Holliday was, jazz like Ella Fitzgerald, or soul, like Aretha Franklin, an early
Simone album was entitled Broadway, Blues and Ballads, and that's a pretty fair summation of
her range. She cut near-definitive versions of “I Loves You Porgy”and “I Put A Spell On You.”
Then through the '60s she added folk/protest music to her canon, recording songs by Dylan, even the Beatles, the Bee Gees and Leonard Cohen. Simone's work was always characterized by as well as an intense emotionalism, a poltiticized element, and in the '70s her political commitments
started taking more of her time.
With its scant information, Nina's Back would appear to have been cut between 1978's
Baltimore and 1987's Let It Be Me, both live albums with Simone fronting small combos. Given an
updated, almost discofied treatment, Simone's own piano playing is less to the fore, but
still she presides with her characteristic elegance. And while she does allow herself the
luxury of looking back – even though Fodder On Her Winqs” is barely nostalgic - she hasn't lost
her social conscience (“it’s Cold Out Here”), and “Saratoga” is as achingly a poignant ballad as she's
ever recorded. As she puts it in a song from her own pen, “l Sing Just To Know That l'm Alive.”
It's true, this is not so much Nina Simone soaring as gliding, but then as the cliche would have
it, even average Nina Simone is better than most anything else.